Why Benghazi Will Never Go Away

Speaker John Boehner announced he'll appoint a select committee to investigate the 2012 terrorist attacks. 
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Jason Reed/Reuters

Someone tweets about Benghazi every 12 seconds. Not every 12 days or every 12 minutes, but every 12 seconds.

Over the past month, that's added up to more than 200,000 tweets, according to the social-media tracking firm Topsy. And while mentions of the attack on the American compound in Libya soared in the past few days thanks to new revelations about the government's handling of the incident, Benghazi still scores about 5,000 tweets per day during the long periods between fresh news developments.

Notably, that's about the same number of tweets as Hillary Clinton gets on most days. In fact, over the past 30 days, Benghazi edged out Clinton on Twitter, earning 219,325 mentions to Clinton's 219,163 (as of the end of the workday Thursday.)

If this means anything, it's that the controversy is not fading with time. It remains something—perhaps the biggest thing—that Clinton and her team will have to deal with, should she decide to run for president, whether she wants to or not.

Clinton, who has seen both sides of a scandal—first working for congressional Watergate investigators and later as the subject of several probes herself—knows as well as anyone that there will always be new, incremental revelations that can reignite a simmering scandal, as long as partisans have an interest in keeping it burning.

And Republicans clearly see benefits in keeping Benghazi in the headlines. "For Secretary Clinton, Benghazi will be the defining event of her tenure as secretary of State, so if she chooses to run for president, avoiding addressing the questions head on will not be an option," said Tim Miller, the executive director of the Republican opposition-research group America Rising.

The attack undercuts one of her key achievements as secretary of state—the toppling of former Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi—and, to a lesser extent, her entire tenure. As Clinton herself said last week, the attack is her "biggest regret" from her time at State.

And while it's far from an Achilles' heel for the presumed Democratic front-runner, the vast majority of Americans are familiar with the attack, according to polls, and respondents to a recent Pew survey listed it as Clinton's top weakness.

Most important, it resonates with voters on the right, and Republican leaders will keep the scandal alive if for no other reason than to mobilize their own base.

This week, new revelations include an email from Obama national-security aide Ben Rhodes that appears to show that the White House downplayed the possibility of terrorism in the aftermath of the attack, instead blaming an anti-Muslim video that had sparked violent protests in more than a dozen Muslim countries around the attack.

The other piece of news came Thursday in congressional testimony from retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell, who served as deputy director of intelligence for the military's Africa Command, which has jurisdiction over Libya. "What we did know quite early on was that this was a hostile action. This was no demonstration gone terribly awry," Lovell said, undermining the very case the White House was pushing in the initial days after the attack.

Congressional probes will continue, even as Democrats criticize Republican investigators' "embarrassing ... conspiracy theories" and bemoan the "millions of dollars" spent. And if the Republicans take the Senate this year, expect the number of investigations to double.

Even—or especially—if neither of the tidbits of news this week contained any substantive new information, let alone a smoking gun, the steadfast interest on social media and in the press shows why Clinton will likely never be able to entirely break free of the attack.

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Alex Seitz-Wald is a reporter for National Journal

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